Thursday, 28 August 2014

NOTE: What's More in 9.4 - Admin & Deployment

We can't consider SAS version 9.4 to be "new" any more (it first shipped in July 2013), but if we had the numbers to show it, I'm sure we'd see that less than 50% of customers have upgraded, so it's worth revisiting 9.4's attractions.

The complexity, effort and cost of upgrading have grown over the years. I don't know many clients who still perform upgrades themselves; most rely on SAS Professional Services to do the heavy lifting. Whether this lack of self-sufficiency is good for the clients in the long-term is debatable. SAS themselves claim to recognise the issue and are making efforts to ease the burden of upgrading. Perhaps we'll see significant changes in this area in 9.5, but I won't hold my breath.

Anyway, to return to v9.4, I recently took a look at the What's New in SAS 9.4 book. Wow, that's a big tome! 140 pages. I've not bothered to check, but it's the biggest "What's New" that I recall. So there must be plenty of juicy new features to justify an upgrade. In fact, there are, and I'll spread them over a number of articles. To counterpoint my comments above, I'll start with a mention of the changes in the areas of deployment and administration.

Firstly, the web-based Environment Manager (EM) shows SAS's direction for a new Management Console. EM allows admin and monitoring from a web-based interface and hence does not require the installation of any client-side software.

Secondly, there's far greater and more explicit support for virtual SAS instances, either hosted on-site or off-site. This gives IT departments far greater flexibility to build and deploy multiple instances of SAS; this is a good thing if you think that multiple instances are a good thing.

Thirdly, many of those 3rd-party bits and bobs in the middle tier have been replaced by SAS Web Application Server. On the face of it, we no longer need to recruit and retain support personnel with skills in non-SAS technologies. Certainly, it's good to have just one supplier to turn to in the event of questions or problems. However, the skills and knowledge required to install and operate SAS Web Application Server are similar to those required for the bits ans bobs of mid-tier used with v9.3 and v9.2, so it's not a complete "get out of jail free" card. And if you look carefully, you'll see that SAS Web Application Server is largely a rebranded version of a 3rd party toolset. Nonetheless, it's a positive step.

And finally, availability and resilience have been much improved with the ability to have more than one metadata server. I wrote about this in May last year. Alongside clustered metadata servers, we can also have clustered middle-tier servers. Simplistically, this means that if one server fails then the service can continue and will not fail.